David Bowie Live In Santa Monica ’72
Often bootlegged through the years, this legendary 1972 performance by David Bowie and his Ziggy-era band, the Spiders from Mars, brims with all the excitement Bowie must have felt as he watched stardom hurtling his way. Drawing mostly from his (then) four rock albums (RCA had recently re-released Space Oddity; The Man Who Sold the World would soon follow), Bowie and sidekick Mick Ronson lead the band through a set remarkable for its instrumental economy, stylistic diversity, and sonic aggression.
Except for an overwrought working of Jacques Brel’s “My Death” and a superfluous cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man,” Bowie and the Spiders essentially take Bowie’s melodic, minimalist songs and sets them ablaze with a white heat glow. “Hang On To Yourself” and “Queen Bitch” explode out of the speakers like bottle rockets, their propulsive energy fueled by Ronson’s churning power chords and wah-laden leads. As streamlined as a bullet train, the band seems intent on espousing the glam-punk ethic that rock ‘n’ roll is most exciting when stripped to its core.
Elsewhere, especially on “Changes” and “Life On Mars?,” the set shifts toward Bowie’s quirky cabaret leanings, as Mike Garson’s glissando-rich piano underscores Bowie’s theatrical, Anthony Newley-influenced vocals. But these are mere respites. In perhaps their most exciting recorded versions, the epic “The Width of a Circle” and metallic sci-fi extravaganza “Moonage Daydream” give Ronson the opportunity to flex his solo guitar muscle to its fullest.
Thankfully, the murky sound that marred the bootlegs has been cleaned up, giving the performance a sonic wallop that surpasses even the Bowie Live set that followed two years later. Beautiful period-specific artwork, a reprint of L.A. Times critic Robert Hilburn’s fawning review of the show, and various other reproductions of memorabilia flesh out the package. But make no mistake—the music alone is reason enough to spring for this set. For an early snapshot of glam-rock in its unvarnished ascendance, there’s no better document than this one.